What works well? Ask a PE teacher!

There has been a great deal of debate on social media recently about what works in the classroom. This rich professional dialogue has been helpfully supported by a plethora of insightful research on teaching, learning, cognitive science and so on. Much of this research, which is available on this blog for quick reference, highlights what has been proved to be effective and provides helpful suggestions for classroom practice. Many of the guiding principles found within this research come from three sources:

  1. research on how our brain acquires and uses new information;
  2. research on the classroom practices of those teachers whose students show the highest gains; and
  3. findings from studies that taught learning strategies to students.

They might have added…
4) From observing PE teachers in action!

Simply because so much of the information from research will be hugely familiar to Physical Education teachers as it is to me as a former PE teacher myself.

PE teachers will identify as familiar and commonplace:

  • Fast starts and ‘Do Nows’. Beginning a lesson with a short review of previous learning. Established routines, such as skill practices, games or warm ups at the start of a lesson that settle and prepare students for the lesson building on previously acquired knowledge, skills and understanding.
  • Purposeful learning guided by objectives that are not written up.
  • New material presented in small steps with student practice after each step. Practical skills broken down in manageable chunks so to limit the amount of material students receive at any one time which allow them to build confidence without overwhelming.
  • Suitably brief, clear instructions and explanations. The outside environment often demands this but activity time is, therefore, kept to a maximum through brief, yet considered use of teacher talk.
  • Tasks and skills modelled only at one level – the best quality performance to practise and replicate. WAGOLLs (What A Good One Looks Like) routinely shared so that excellence is always modelled.
  • A high level of active and guided practice for all students. Practice getting it right; encoding success as the late, great basketball coach John Wooden put it.
  • Drills and practices that are given names to speed up the students’ recognition of the next step. I have personally used drills named after football clubs and basketball teams that require, once taught, no further explanation. Naming a drill creates a known vocabulary that helps focus practice and reflection.
  • Responsive and adaptive teaching – Monitoring and analysis of student performance, checking the responses of all students, to ascertain what they can do already and therefore their starting points. Analysis of performance so that the teacher can plan the next step in their development and adapt the lesson in real time.
  • Employing a large number of questions to further check for understanding; encouraging students to explain and demonstrate what they had learned.
  • Systematic verbal feedback from the teacher (and sometimes the student) and corrections leading to further practice and, if appropriate, re-teaching.
  • Opportunity for ndependent practice and application of the new skills in a new and ever changing context; often a game situation.
  • Oh and group work! The subject demands you do group work. Sorry!

So you see PE teachers have been doing this stuff all along. Go learn from them folks!